E911 Committee splits votes on new talk group

Published 9:15 am Monday, April 4, 2022

The Decatur-Grady 911 Committee found themselves deadlocked on Thursday, when they could not come to a resolution over the Cairo Police Department requesting a separate radio channel from the Grady County Sheriff’s Office.

The request for the separate radio channel stemmed from Cairo Chief of Police Gio Santos.

“I can’t speak for Decatur County, but in Grady County I see an issue,” he explained to the committee. “We have four agencies in one talk group and whenever a critical incident happens, it’s game over; the other agencies are relegated to stop and be quiet.”

Santos shared that when a critical incident happens, agencies are supposed to switch radio channels and go to another frequency, but that has not been the case as of lately and has caused confusion for everyone involved.

“There’s been confusion between 911, Cairo PD and the Grady SO and no one knew where to go,” he said. “The whole time there’s a critical incident going on, you’ve got three other law enforcement agencies just waiting it out. It hasn’t caused a safety issue yet, but it’s just a matter of time; you still have officers out there patrolling during the incident.”

Santos said he understood that Decatur-Grady 911 is currently short-staffed, but officers should be able to do their job without having to completely stop because one unit is handling an incident in a different vicinity.

To alleviate this issue, Santos suggested the return of simulcasting, which allows officers to listen to the Grady SO channel, but also conduct business on their own channel when an incident takes place.

Decatur-Grady 911 Director, Tonya Griffin told Santos she understood his dilemma, but the trouble with two channels is it can be overwhelming for a dispatcher.

Griffin said although it has not happened yet, a dispatcher could be handling a critical incident on one channel, while routine traffic stops happen on the other. However, when one of those routine stops turns into a chase, the dispatcher can become overwhelmed and be stuck juggling two equally important calls at once.

“I don’t know how to handle that problem,” Griffin told the committee.

Grady County Administrator Buddy Johnson told Griffin the only way to rectify the issue was to give Santos his own channel, as he did not find this to be an unreasonable request.

Santos additionally brought up the issue of radio traffic.

“We have done everything we can,” he said. “We’ve taken all our non-essential people off of the radio and dispatch out of our office when we can. We don’t bother y’all when we don’t have to, but other people don’t want to follow suit.”

Santos provided examples of times when Cairo PD, Grady SO, the County Road Department and volunteer fire departments have all been on the same channel at one time, however nothing can be accomplished because the channel is being filled with constant chatter.

“I understand it’s easier to listen to one channel than two, but our channel has become just a talk-around channel,” Santos explained. “There’s too much traffic on that one channel for four agencies, but I know with simulcasting my guys can be out on the road and be safe doing so.”

Griffin disagreed with Santos, claiming last time she tried simulcasting she was “chewed out by an officer, saying someone would get killed by taking two calls at the same time.”

Griffin said the problem could easily be solved if everyone would have trained on radio etiquette and abided by the communication policy passed in 2015.

“Not one agency trains on radio etiquette,” Griffin said. “We still have officers blurting out traffic stops when they have no idea what my operator is doing. If we go back to simulcasting my operator will routinely be talking to two units at one time and taking a call, and that’s too much pressure.”

Chairman Pete Stephens then questioned why the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office and Bainbridge Public Safety don’t deal with these issues if they are so prevalent.

It was quickly pointed out that both Sheriff Wiley Griffin and Chief Redell Walton run a tight ship and would not allow constant chatter over the radio. However, that is not the case for Grady SO Sheriff Harry Young, who has been routinely asked to cut down on the amount of radio traffic.

Committee member Roslyn Palmer then suggested Tonya have a sit down meeting with Young and explain the situation to him. The idea was quickly dismissed as Tonya explained ever since she has been in the position, Young has refused to even respond to her emails, much less have a sit down meeting.

A current dispatcher, who attended the committee meeting, agreed with Santos and said much of the chatter heard on that channel could be handled over the phone, unfortunately they can’t turn the line on mute, in case of an emergency.

Once Santos’ point was proven by the dispatcher, it was suggested again for another radio channel.
While the second radio channel seemed ideal, Tonya still had concerns over the feasibility for her dispatchers.

The communication policy passed in 2015 was then brought up. Tonya was asked if the policy was ever signed and dated. While she said it was passed, it was never signed and dated.

The question then became, if the committee resurrected the policy and enforced it, could Grady SO be taken off the radio talk path if they did not abide.

Tonya was happy to hear this idea over the two radio channels, but it was explained that in order to take Grady SO off of one channel they would have to create two channels, so Cairo PD would still have a way to communicate, along with Whigham PD and the school police.

A motion was then made to accept the idea of resurrecting the policy, enforcing it and creating two talk channels in the meantime.

However, Stephens said he couldn’t second the motion, unless it was promised that they would eventually go back to one channel, once the dispute was settled. At the time, no promises could be made.

With the motion made, Johnson seconded, asking that the two channels be granted.

However, they were deadlocked after Stephens said he could not second or agree to that and neither could Palmer.

Stephens asked that the conversation be tabled for another time, as no one could come to a resolution in the near two-hour meeting.

Johnson asked Stephens to please reconsider tabling, because Santos had also made the request to the Grady County Commissioners, but Stephens remained adamant that the conversation be tabled for another time.